Trump characterizes Clinton as part of the status quo, but she’d certainly benefit from a ho hum debate that keeps the race where it is. She’s opened up a comfortable lead in the polls.
Clinton says that Trump is too unsteady for office, but he’d perhaps gain from a disruptive debate that triggers some unexpected error or inopportune comment from his opponent. That’s reflected in his guest list — a gallery of figures, some notorious, as a nod to controversies past. Among them are Malik Obama, a Trump supporter and half-brother of President Obama; Patricia Smith, the mother of one of the victims in the Benghazi attacks; James O’Keefe, the right wing activist who specializes in political stings; and Sarah Palin, who in many ways was a forerunner to Trump.
Clinton has Mark Cuban, the entrepreneur and reality host, who has emerged as one of the more visible non-politician celebrity supporters of her campaign, and Meg Whitman, the CEO of Hewlett-Packard who crossed party lines to back her candidacy.
Follow along with Variety‘s live blog for updates.
8:51 pm ET: Trump TV. What would a Donald Trump TV look like? There has been widespread speculation that should he lose, Trump would look to launch a TV network, perhaps with his campaign CEO, Steve Bannon, who was formerly executive chairman of Breitbart News Network. Before the debate, Trump’s Facebook page ran a Facebook Live preview of the debate, with their own anchors and guests Michael Flynn and Jan Brewer offering their analysis, and the plans are for the campaign to do post-debate coverage with members of the Trump family. “The Drive-By Media, which is an extension of the Clinton Campaign, will try to spin the Debate as a loss for Mr. Trump no matter how decisively he wins,” the campaign wrote to supporters this afternoon, inviting them to watch.
9:02 pm ET: No handshakes. The traditional shaking hands among families of the candidates won’t be taking place. That is to avoid awkward moments — and seems to have been fueled by the Trump’s campaign invite of four of Bill Clinton’s accusers to the last debate. Not even the candidates shake hands as they take their spots at their lecterns.
9:04 pm ET: Supreme Court. “The Supreme Court needs to stand on the side of the American people,” Clinton says, while saying it is necessary to uphold Roe vs. Wade and marriage equality and reverse Citizens United.
“The Supreme Court is what it is all about,” Trump says, before noting that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had apologized for attacking him. He refers to the need to “uphold the Second Amendment” because it is “under such trauma.” He says that the justices he would appoint would be pro-life and would “interpret the Constitution the way the founders intended.”
9:11 pm ET. The Second Amendment. Clinton says that she supports the Second Amendment, and that she respects the “tradition of gun ownership,” but calls for “sensible” gun reforms that will expand background checks and close the gun show loophole. She says that such reforms can be made and still respect the Second Amendment.
Trump says that he is “very proud to have the endorsement of the NRA,” but he doesn’t comment on Clinton’s call for expanded background checks, with the gun lobby opposes.
9:16 pm ET. Roe vs. Wade. Trump says that if elected, Roe vs. Wade will be overturned. “That will happen,” he says, adding that the decision on abortion rights would then go to the states.
Clinton again says that she would look to uphold Roe vs. Wade.
“I will defend the rights of women to make their own healthcare decisions,” she says, while mentioning that Trump once said that he would “punish” women who have an illegal abortion in a state where it is prohibited. That was said in an interview with Chris Wallace, but his campaign quickly backtracked.
Trump attacks Clinton for supporting late-term abortions. “You can say that that’s okay, but it’s not okay with me,” he says.
So far, there is some substance in this debate.
9:22 pm ET: The Wall. “We have some bad hombres here and we are going to get them out,” Trump says, reaffirming his signature campaign promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.
Clinton says that she does not want to “rip families apart,” while referring to Trump’s plan for a “deportion force” to expel illegal immigrants.
“I think we are a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws and we can act accordingly,” she says.
Trump accuses Clinton of supporting the construction of a border wall when she was a senator, while she slams him for using undocumented workers “to build Trump tower.”
Trump notes that Obama has deported “millions and millions of people” to bolster his case that what he has proposed is not implausible.
9:30 pm ET: Open borders. Clinton is asked about a WikiLeaks release of a transcript of one of her paid speeches to a Brazilian bank. She referred to “open borders” in the speech, but she says that she was talking about energy.
“She wants open borders, people are going to pour into our country,” Trump says.
9:33 pm ET: ‘Potted plant.’ Chris Wallace interrupts Trump as he goes on about Clinton being “outsmarted” by Putin.
“I am not a potted plant here. I do get to ask some questions,” Wallace says to Trump, as he tries to get control of the debate.
Actually, Wallace has been more aggressive than past moderators in stepping in.
Clinton has been arguing that Trump has been a “puppet” of Putin and his foreign policy outlook has been reckless.
“Putin has outsmarted her at every step of the way,” Trump says. He says that he has “never met Putin. This is not my best friend.”
9:40 pm ET: The economy. “We will have a massive, massive tax increase under Hillary Clinton’s plan,” Trump says, before switching to his proposal to tell Japan, Germany and South Korea to “pay up” for protection as part of U.S. strategic alliances.
“We are going to make a great trade deal, and if we can’t we are going to go a separate way.”
Clinton defends her plan as raising taxes only on the top 1%, and that her proposal would not add “a penny to the debt.”
She talks of the “terrible recession” that Obama inherited, as a response to Trump’s argument that growth has been anemic under his presidency. Her campaign undoubtedly believes that Obama’s high approval ratings show that there is not much of a risk in embracing his policies.
Trump slams Clinton’s husband, for signing NAFTA, which he characterizes as a disastrous trade deal that
“There’s only one of us on this stage who’s actually shipped jobs to Mexico. That’s Donald,” she says.
9:53 pm ET: Groping. Wallace asks Trump about claims by women that he groped and made improper sexual advances toward them. “Those stories have been largely debunked,” he says, while denying the women’s stories and claiming that it was the work of her campaign.
The women’s stories have not been debunked. In fact, People published a piece on Tuesday with six people who corroborated one of its writer’s accounts of Trump pushing himself on her in 2005.
Clinton notes that at rallies, Trump said that he could “not possibly have done” what was alleged because “they were not attractive enough.” He denies it as she talks — “I did not say that” — but Wallace stops him.
“Nobody respects women more than I do,” Trump says, calling her campaign “sleazy.” He then goes on to Clinton’s e-mails.
She then goes into a litany of remarks that Trump has made, calling them a “pattern of divisiveness.”
He accuses her of “causing violence at my rallies,” a reference to a sting video in which a Democratic operative appears to be talking of enlisting people to disrupt Trump’s events.
10:02 pm ET: Clinton Foundation. Clinton defends the humanitarian work of the Clinton Foundation, while Trump presses her on why the organization has not returned money from countries with poor human rights records, including toward LGBT individuals.
Clinton says that she would be willing to compare the Clinton Foundation to the Trump Foundation. He defends it and how the money is spent.
Wallace asks whether some of the Trump foundation money was used to settle lawsuits. Trump says that he wanted to put up an American flag.
10:08 pm. ‘Rigged.’ Wallace asks Trump whether he would accept the results of the election — after calling the system “rigged” at his rallies and warning of voter fraud.
He doesn’t commit. “I will look at it at the time,” he says, before accusing the media . He accuses the media of “poisoning the minds of the voters.”
Clinton runs through the litany of times Trump has called the system “rigged” after losing, including when he didn’t win an Emmy. “I should have gotten it,” Trump says.
10:12 pm ET. ISIS. The Iraqi Army is engaged in an operation to root ISIS out of its final major haven in Iraq, in the city of Mosul.
Clinton gives a lengthy plan for what she plans to do in the region, including a no-fly zone in Syria.
“What happened to the element of surprise?” he says, suggesting that legendary generals like Douglas MacArthur and George Patton would be “spinning in their graves” over the way it has been carried out. He also argues that ISIS has “already left” yet noting that it is proving to be much more difficult than they thought to leave the city. He says that Iran will be the beneficiary of the operation to retake the city.
Clinton, however, notes that Mosul is a Sunni city. She calls it a “conspiracy theory” to think that the Mosul operation was motivated by a desire to benefit her campaign.
Trump is really trying to hammer Clinton on foreign policy, but he’s veering from talking about the “disasters” in the region to the latest revelations from WikiLeaks, almost to the point of incoherence. It may confuse viewers but perhaps it still get his message across over the faults with her judgment.
10:23 pm ET. No fly zone. Wallace asks whether Clinton’s proposal for a “no-fly” zone would only trigger further confrontation. She says that it would be implemented after a period of negotiations.
10:29 pm ET. National debt. “I pay for everything I am proposing,” Clinton says, arguing that her proposal does not “add a penny” to the national debt.
Trump, rather amazingly, acknowledges that he disagreed with Ronald Reagan on trade. “I think we should have been much tougher on” trading partners. It’s a rarity for a Republican candidate to criticize a revered figure of the conservative movement, but it underscores how Trump’s trade positions stray from the party’s traditional platform.
10:34 pm ET. ‘Nasty woman.’ After Clinton takes a swipe at Trump’s use of tax loopholes, he interjects, “Such a nasty woman.” It’s a reflection of the tone of the campaign.
10:37 pm ET: Closing statements. Wallace surprises with an offer for both candidates to deliver closing remarks — and they both recite campaign talking points and themes. (Trump with a bit of characteristic hyperbole).
Wallace said that he wanted the statements to end the debate on a high note, but the candidates leave the stage without shaking hands.
This is the last debate, but it’s not the last meeting of Trump and Clinton. They are scheduled to each be at the Alfred Smith Foundation in New York on Thursday night — which has traditionally been an event where the two presidential candidates engage in friendly jokes and banter.